Bodies are weird.
There are time when I look at my baby and I am like “how did I make this?”
To be honest, folks, I’m not a highly competent person when it comes to making things. I can’t even cut a straight line in a piece of paper. But this baby that grew in me has eyebrows, and ankles, and toenails. He has eyes. Do you know how frigging complex eyes are? He has a spleen. A spleen. I mean, not once, when I was pregnant, did I really think about the fact that my kid would need a spleen, but he must have grown one anyway.
Although really, he grew himself and just used me for resources, but still. It’s bizarre, you know?
And now I make milk, which he uses for resources to keep growing. I’m sustaining LIFE. With milk that I made myself.
I have never drunk much milk. Dairy products gave me the trots when I was little so my mother kept me away from milk and ice cream and extra cheese pizzas for the sake of her own sanity. If you don’t grow up with it, milk tastes gross. It’s watery and kind of greasy all at the same time.
But I have milked animals. I have milked goats and cows.
And now I can milk ME.
So far I can still only get one or two ounces out of my boobas when I pump, but it’s getting easier (it was way easier to get half a bucket of milk out of a nanny goat, I can tell you that now, for free). Every now and then I get this really satisfying gush squirting into the bottle as I manage a baby-free let down, and I’m like “HOLY SHIT, IT’S MILK AND ITS COMING OUT OF ME.”
Even when I get frustrated because this kid has been sucking my boobas all frigging day and they’re getting sore and I desperately want to go take a leak, or even better a shower, but I can’t because he’ll scream about the boobas being taken away… I’m still like, “I am a life support system for someone and that is bizarrely awesome.”
Does it seem weird to anyone else that 50% of our population is capable of producing this trademark mammalian substance, but that we consider it far more normal to drink a cow’s version of it than to drink our own? I mean, have you seen cows? They crap diarrhea ALL over their tails and then swish their tails and leave brown wet smears all over their udders and we squeeze the products of these swollen, shit-smeared glands into buckets and then we drink it. But drinking human milk – that’s weird. I mean, would you eat ice cream made out of human milk? Probably not. But why wouldn’t we? Why does drinking milk made by and for people seem inherently grosser than drinking the glandular secretions of a bovine?
Especially since breast milk seems to be everyone’s cure-all for everything known to man:
- “If your nipples get sore,” Dr. Omar Sharif told me, “smear some breast milk on them. The antibodies and white blood cells in it will prevent infection.”
- “Oh, diaper rash?” said the lady at the baby-clothes store, “put some breast milk on it. It’ll clear it right up.”
- “That’s probably a clogged tear duct,” said the public health nurse over the phone, when I told her my baby’s eye had suddenly filled with green goo and sealed itself shut, “massage it with warm water, and put some breast milk in his eye a couple times a day, just in case it is the start of an infection. Breast milk will clear an eye infection right up. Oh, and if he ever gets a cold, squirt some breast milk up his nose. And if you get any cuts, breast milk is great in those, too.”
“Put some breast milk on it” seems to be the answer to everything. I think could walk in with a big ole tumour and probably be told “put some breast milk on it.”
The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding tells me that breast milk is essentially another living tissue, like blood, and that, like blood, it is filled with all sorts of antibodies and millions of white blood cells, all trying to stop infection. Other books assure me that the antibacterial properties of breast milk are “well known” so I can store it for quite a while and it’ll just kill anything that tries to violate its inherent sterility. That’s some bad-ass milk I’m making.
I take absolutely no credit for this. As I’ve said, I can’t even cut a straight line. All the credit really should go to Babby. He was like “make this for me, woman,” and my body was like “sir, yessir,” totally circumventing my consciousness in order to do so.
All I had to do was trust my body to produce it. Thanks to a mother who breastfed, and a health care system that pushes breastfeeding and supplies lots of support for women who are getting started, I never doubted that I would be able to make the milk. I worried about latch (which he’s still having some occasional trouble with) and cracked nipples and mastitis and such, but I didn’t worry about the milk. But I am lucky. In general, Western culture just isn’t set up for providing us with the confidence to believe we can make something so frigging complex. I mean, sure, a baby is even more complex and I made that fine, but milk, too? That seems improbable, and why trust myself when there are formulations made by experts available?
So I can understand why so many women switch to formula, and why they are more likely to do so if they don’t have the resources that I was given. When he’s eating and screaming and eating and screaming, I don’t wonder about the quality of my milk because the doctors and nurses and all the books on breastfeeding all say “THIS IS NORMAL CLUSTER FEEDING AND HAS NOTHING TO DO WITH YOUR MILK QUALITY.”
But I can see how easy it would be to think “Oh, maybe I’m not doing this right,” and give him some formula and when the more difficult proteins made him take longer to digest it, I would think, “see, now he’s sleeping so he must have been starving on my inadequate milk”.
Like, Babby sometimes gets so excited about the booba that he tries to grab it and bring it to his face, but he hasn’t got the push-pull function on his arms figured out so he pushes himself away from it while opening his mouth in anticipation, and then crumples in frustration when it only gets further away.
This amuses the heck out of me.
My mother observing it, said, “You know, your cousin gave up breastfeeding because she said the baby kept pushing the breast away and then bursting into tears. She thought there was something wrong with her milk, that he didn’t like it. I wonder if he was just doing this…”
Or sometimes he will pull away from the breast because it’s full to overflowing and squirting on his face, and he pulls away before he chokes. I wonder how many women, feeling sure that they couldn’t possibly be able to make such a complicated substance successfully, interpreted this as their baby not liking their milk?
It could be easy to do, if you didn’t have confidence in your own mammalian super powers, and that makes me sad.
To be clear: I am NOT sad for these women’s babies. I think that switching to formula, if that is right for the family, is fairly minor decision. That cousin I mentioned, who switched to formula because she thought her baby didn’t like her milk? Well, her kid is a genius who wins all the science fairs and studies university level physics in his spare time. Formula didn’t hurt him at all, clearly. So this is post is not a lactivist screed and if you’re a formula-feeding mom who is feeling defencive and guilty reading this, stoppit right now. Your baby is happy and healthy on formula, which is a perfectly acceptable baby-feeding material.
This is not about formula being bad, nor is this about breast feeding as an individual choice issue.
This is just about breast milk itself being awesome, and how sad it is that so many women (some of whom I have talked to) are afraid that they might not be making good milk, when chances are their milk was every bit as awesome as everyone else’s milk (La Leche League says breast milk quality is “surprisingly consistent” and that a woman has to be severely malnourished before her breast milk quality starts to suffer).
Can you blame them for thinking it, though?
It’s just that we live in a society that insists that women need to be thin, successful career women who are also beaming madonnas with all the latest baby gadgets. No woman can be that perfect, so then every woman feels like a failure. Then we expect women to feel confident in their ability to make cancer-curing, antibacterial magic booba juice.
We live in a society where, if I said, “hey, anyone want a glass of milk, fresh from my boobas?” people would say “eeeew, no,” but if I said “would you like some bovine mammary secretions?” they’d say “sure!”
This is a society where Facebook still has breastfeeding photos banned as “obscene” but then women are made to feel guilty if they don’t do it.
That’s just messed up.
But look, ladies, whether we choose to do so or not, we can make stuff that kills infections and cures cancer.
That is awesome.
The downside to my breastfeeding seems to be that the girly hormones from my boobas is making him break out in a frighteningly extravagant bout of acne, which spreads around the sides of his head and even down onto his chest. No one likes to think that their baby is unattractive to others, so obviously this cosmetic flaw is concerning me an undue amount.
I’ve decided to put breast milk on it.